It's one term and done for two more Minneapolis school board members as Pam Costain and chairman Tom Madden announced Monday that they won't seek reelection this fall.
Costain said she's tired of negativity toward city schools. Madden blamed himself for allowing burnout and says he needs more balance in his life.
On the heels of first-termer Chris Stewart making a similar announcement this month, it leaves the seven-member board in the unusual spot of having just one of four members elected in 2006 seeking another four-year term.
Costain said in a letter she distributed Monday that the negative vibes in the district come from outside sources -- some "politicians' favorite sport is bashing the Minneapolis Public Schools," she said -- as well as internal ones.
The environment "has taken its toll," Costain said in an interview. "I think I underestimated what it means to be the target of people's frustration and anger on a daily basis, for several years on end."
Madden said that while he blames himself for his sense of being burned out -- as board chairman, he sets the board's schedule -- "it became more school board and less anything else, and I can't afford to keep up at that pace."
When Stewart announced that he would not run again, he said he wanted to spend more time with his family and pursue other avenues. He's made it clear in the past that the negative dialogue over public education in Minnesota irks him, as well.
"As elected officials, we're supposed to be polite," he said at a board meeting in August. "We're supposed to shake our head in agreement, and say we hear what you're saying. But I don't hear what you're saying, and I don't understand. I work in an institution that has people who don't have enough self-esteem about what they do because of the relentless criticism of education."
Board member T. Williams, the fourth board member up for reelection this fall, has said he plans to run again.
The 2006 seats won by Williams, Stewart, Costain and Madden marked the first time in at least 20 years that Minneapolis voters elected a majority of newcomers at once to the board. The district was reeling from controversy over ousted Superintendent Thandiwe Peebles, which led the board's current superintendent, Bill Green, to take over on an interim basis.
Peebles' management style had driven away many district leaders, and administrative issues emerged. Accounting left much to be desired; three months after Green took over, a third-grade teacher received a paycheck that included $45,000 for nine extra hours of work.
The district was hemorrhaging enrollment and losing millions each year because of student losses and state budget cutbacks. The current board has taken the district from that trauma and helped establish a foundation for the schools to move forward.
"I was hoping we'd be a transformational board," Madden said. "When it's all said and done, we'll be seen as a transitional board. We're the board that transitioned the district from failure."
'Fighting each other'
Costain said that she can't afford to run for reelection, noting that the $14,000 she receives annually doesn't even cover the cost of her health care and "professional expenses." Board members' wages haven't increased in more than 20 years, she said, and the model in which the district's seven board members are part-time "volunteers" is outdated.
Madden said he's proud of the work the board has done in downsizing the district, fixing the financial systems and getting a strategic plan in place. Costain called her board stint "the most significant and important work I have done in my professional life."
She said the community needs a serious conversation about school boards and the role they play in modern life.
"We have an institution that is from the 'Leave it to Beaver' days, and the issues that the institution deals with are at the heart of all the tension points in our society," she said. "We've got a 1950s model trying to govern a 2010 multicultural, multilingual, multi-ethnic environment, where there are a lot of winners and losers. And nobody wants their kids to be losers."
Madden said everybody knows that education needs to be reformed, but disputes over specifics mean that "we end up fighting each other rather than fighting those who don't believe in public education."
Emily Johns • 612-673-7460